MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On a cold January afternoon, a 9th grade wrestling match took place between Edina and Plymouth.

Young wrestlers with little experience took center stage, and right in the middle of the action was Joe Steffenhagen.

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“I’m always nervous because I want to do my best. I don’t want someone to get cheated because I didn’t see something,” Steffenhagen said.

Officiating is new to Joe, but wrestling isn’t. His uncles introduced him to the sport when he was young, and he didn’t let cerebral palsy stop him from competing in sports through high school.

“I just love the competition. I love to win. I love the hustle. I just want to play my hardest all the time,” he said.

Jason Steffenhagen said his brother never let his condition slow him down.

“We never, ever let that be an excuse,” Jason Steffenhagen said.

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After he graduated from college, Joe Steffenhagen knew he wanted to give back. So he decided to become a wrestling official.

Having cerebral palsy meant there would be challenges. He moves with a limp and has limited use of his right hand and arm. But, like with everything else, he’s learned to adapt.

He’s officiating junior varsity wrestlers now, all while helping kids understand the sport. His goal is to become a varsity official and someday qualify for the state tournament as a referee.

“I’ve always said my brother Joe is my hero. Just seeing what he’s had to deal with and what he’s overcome in his life, he’s always been a hero of mine. Every time I think of a hero, that’s the first person I think of,” Jason Steffenhagen said.

Joe has officiated some varsity matches already and is hoping to get a few more in before the end of the year.

“It’s the discipline. It’s the encouragement. It’s anything that you can do in life you can do on a wrestling mat,” Joe Steffenhagen said.

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When he’s not officiating, he is a paraprofessional at Roseville Area High School.

John Lauritsen